The Votes Are In: Comments Stay

Since this is a traditional Catholic publication, I know you’d all be very disappointed were I to ever give the impression that it is a democracy. (Much less that you have some right to the freedom of speech! Phhbbbtt!)

But I strive to be an enlightened despot, and I hear the cries of the people. I have heard your furtive pleas to allow the comment box to live… and so it shall. For now.

Am I not merciful? 

But seriously – with over 600 votes cast, and new incoming votes tapering off to a trickle — we probably would have had more if the survey hadn’t shut itself off for half the day yesterday, but we’ll fudge the science — we’ve got enough data to work with. The odds were definitely on the side of preservation of the comment box, but there’s more to the story. In the interest of full transparency, here’s a look at the numbers:

So lets break it down:

  • The overwhelming majority of respondents (90.8%) say they read the comments on our articles either occasionally (31.9%) or frequently (58.9%).
  • A tiny minority of respondents (7.2%) actually participate in the comments with frequency; over 60% say they NEVER do, and 32.2% say they participate only occasionally.
  • Nearly half of all those polled admit they AVOID reading or participating in the comments at least some of the time because they “feel that they are unproductive” or that they’ll end up “spending more time arguing” than they’d like. The other half say it’s not a problem.
  • It’s roughly a three-way split on the kind of impression that people think the comments will give to newcomers: 32.7% say positive, 38.3% say neutral, and 29% say negative.
  • Nearly 97% of respondents say the comment policy is fair.
  • 54.1% said the comments section ADDS value to the site; only 17.3% said it detracts. The rest were either undecided or think it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
  • 47.2% said that they would NOT support removing the comment boxes; 32.3% said they would. Another 20.5% say they’re not sure.
  • There was another pretty even split about whether discussions should be moved elsewhere if they didn’t happen here.

I found this exercise informative. On Facebook, I saw more comments saying, “Shut the comments down if you need to. Let them have the discussions elsewhere where you don’t have to moderate.” On the site, I saw more people saying the opposite. It was not surprising to see how few people actually engage regularly in the comments — I think we knew that; what was surprising is how many people read them but don’t join in. That’s the X factor I was looking for here — what the non-participants think.

I also found it interesting that many folks admitted to avoiding joining in the conversation because of how rowdy it gets in there or because they think it’s a waste of time. This has long been one of my concerns — the loudest voices tend to drown out those who might be less certain of their positions. Something I’ve noticed for a very long time is that many combox regulars (not just here, but everywhere) tend to be the “complainers”, as it were — the people who aren’t happy and want to vent about it — while the vast majority of email correspondence we receive is positive, kind, and thankful.

Believe it or not, we don’t get much hate mail.

Nobody really has a problem with our comment policy; that’s good. I strove to make it fair, and I’m glad it’s perceived as constructive. I apparently left off a question about how people feel about the enforcement of that policy, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

A little less than half of us feel strongly that comments should stay, more than half either aren’t sure or think they should go. I’ve counted myself in the “unsure” category for a while, which is why I asked about this in the first place. I’m not interested in turning the combox into an Orwellian police state. I don’t like to micromanage. Either we’re going to have freedom and self-police, or we’re just going to close up shop. That’s my philosophy on it. Other publications do their own thing, and I often don’t care for it.

I think we should all take note of what may be the most important insight gleaned here: the fact that even though most of us either read or participate in the comments, and nearly half feel strongly about keeping them, only a third would go so far as to say that they actually offer people new to the site a positive impression. 

That’s a problem. I would say, actually, that this is the problem. The thing I was trying to get at. And the raw data tells me you see it, too.

I’m not going to go through all the write-in comments at the end of the survey. I have only read a small portion of them, but I wanted those thoughts written down for future reference. I have read with interest the entire thread beneath the survey post itself, and I see a lot of impassioned defenses of the value of our little mosh pit.

So as I said, you have persuaded me to keep the comments open on most posts. I will probably be adding an additional disclaimer on our policy about how comments don’t necessarily represent our views as a publication; this should be obvious, but in our culture of constantly-manufactured and litigation-inclined fake outrage, it’s important to create some clear boundaries.

For those of you who will be staying actively engaged in the comments, I urge you to keep these insights in mind. Try to think, as you’re crafting your replies, how our discussion looks to the reader who may just be getting their toes wet in Catholic tradition, or who has never heard of the things being discussed, or attends the novus ordo every Sunday (and quite possibly most weekdays) and wants to know more about what the vetus ordo has on offer without getting their heads caved in with bitter rhetoric, etc. By all means, stand up for what you believe is true, but wherever we can make our points with greater charity, we should do so. As my friend Dr. Michael Sirilla has often observed, G.K. Chesterton was a master at arguing with ideological opponents in such a way that while his points came across loud and clear, he still gave them room to convert without getting a lot of egg on their faces. I know I haven’t mastered that yet, but I aspire to do so.

I still may consider other venues for conversation about topics larger than the posts on the site, but that’s a discussion for another day.

My thanks to all of you who participated in the survey, and who left mature and reasonable comments so we could have a real discussion about this so I could make an informed decision. The rash judgment and needless hyperbole a few of us struggle with was nevertheless in evidence during this exercise, and it just needs to go. It’s obnoxious, and I’m out of patience for it. There was actually an accusation that just raising this question for discussion was our “Judas moment” as a publication.

Really? Really? 

I’m incredibly tired of this kind of thing, so I will be excising the most needlessly cantankerous among us — policy violations or not — at my discretion. Whatever it takes to let cooler heads and more fruitful discussions prevail. With that in mind, self-restraint would be a good thing to try out now if you haven’t given it a whirl just yet.

Honestly, I encourage everyone who can to drop the pseudonyms. When you’re commenting in public, in writing, in your own name, and people can Google you and find out all the things you say, that’s a fantastic deterrent for bad online behavior. I’ve been doing it for many years, and let me tell you, it’s liberating. Using a pseudonym means never having to say you’re sorry because you’re never truly accountable for what you say. (And yes, I understand that for some of us — especially clergy — this is not feasible without fear of retribution. That’s a different story.)

I also ask that all of you who are reading the comments — even if you don’t participate — help us police the site. Don’t be afraid to flag comments that seem out of bounds for review. To the right of every comment is a little down arrow — kind of hard to see, but it’s there — and it will open a menu that allows you to do exactly that.

Let’s all work together to make 1P5 a better place.


The Management

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